9 December: Life after HUGE? Registration now open

Below, you will find the preliminary programme for the symposium Life after HUGE? which will be held on 9 December at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. Registration is now open, and you may do so either by leaving a comment … Continue reading

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P.G. Wodehouse, what?

One of my colleagues here at Leiden is reading P.G. Wodehouse. She told me about this because she had noticed what seeemed to her a peculiar construction, as in “It does make it awkward, what?” and “Better take a look round, what?”. Is this oldfashioned British English, or dialect, she asked me. For me it is ages since I read any Wodehouse novels, not since my teenage years anyway, so I wouldn’t know, except that the construction suggests upper-class usage to me. But I promised to consult the readers of this blog. Does anyone have an idea?

Checking his wikipedia entry just now, I was struck by how similar Wodehouse’s life and career was to Raymond Chandler’s, whose biography I’m reading at the momen. There is not much of an age difference between them, they went to the same school (Dulwich College), both lived in England and the US during periods of their lives, both became writers after unsatisfactory early careers, and both worked for Hollywood.

So I really must reread some of Wodehouse’s novels, as well as the biography I have of him, but have never read.

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Dahlesque got in, so how about Fowleresque?

Two weeks ago, NRC-Handelsblad published an article on the memorable fact that among their new entries, the Oxford English Dictionary adopted words made up by Roald Dahl (1916-1990). The OED as a news item in a Dutch quality newspaper! The occasion appears to have been the hundredth anniversary of the novelist’s date of birth. The article also mentions the adoption of the word dahlesque, to refer to a style of writing typical of Dahl.

Dahlesque into the OED! For years now I’ve been trying to get the OED to adopt fowlerlesque as a word, along with fowlerian and fowlerish, not to mention fowler, a household word according to many. And just a week ago I found another one: fowlerism. It seems that fowler is quite a productive word. There are plenty of examples as well, so if usage is a criterion, these are real words rather (fowler + regular English suffixes) than nonsense words (oompa loompa) and therefore merit inclusion into the dictionary.

OED, do you perhaps need a festive occasion, as a way to pay tribute to someone as well-known as Fowler? How about 2016 being the 90th anniversary of the publication of the archetypal usage guide called A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), published by your own publisher as well?

Any other examples of famous author + esque forms?

  • Chandleresque: p. 201 of A Mysterious Something in the Light. Raymond Chandler: A Life, by Tom Williams (2012).


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500 Mistakes of Daily Occurrence online

Yesterday, completely by chance, I came across a digitised version of the anonymous usage guide (also included in the HUGE database) called 500 Mistakes of Daily Occrrence (1856). The site operates wonderfully, and the document is fully searchable (but still attributed to Walton Burgess). The most amazing discovery though, was that while my own copy is green, this one is red! Would there be any other colours, I wonder?

500-mistakes-red-and-greenAnd here is yet another one, found on archive.org (number 452), more beautifully executed:


On the book’s authorship, however, see:

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (2015). Five Hundred Mistakes Corrected: An Early American English Usage Guide. In: Marina Dossena (ed.),Transatlantic Perspectives of Late Modern English. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 55-71.

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Soon out now: Prescription and Tradition in Language

Some of you may remember the wonderful Prescriptivism Conference we held here at Leiden in June 2013: I’m very happy to be able to announce the publication of the collection of articles that resulted from it in only a few months time. You may pre-order your copy (or ask your library to do so) already: here is the flyer with more information about what will be in it.

And another announcement: the next conference will take place in June next year, in Park City, Utah, organised by Don Chapman from Brigham Young University. The call for papers is now out.

Prescriptivism book

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The “new” like and non-native speakers of English

Earlier this summer, Susan de Smit finished her BA thesis in English here at Leiden on the use of “the new like” by native as well as non-native speakers of English. If you are interested in the results of her survey, have a look at the summary she wrote of her main and most interesting findings.


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Children in a world of prescriptivists

Lonneke van Leest-Kootkar is one of the few students from my Testing Prescriptivism course who still has a second blogpost to publish. As you will see, she is also the mother of two small children:

The inspiration for this blogpost came from a quotation from Halliday et al.’s The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching (1964), which I came across in Milroy & Milroy’s Authority in Language which we read during the course:

A speaker who is made ashamed of his own language habits suffers a basic injury as a human being: to make anyone, especially a child, feel so ashamed is as indefensible as to make him feel ashamed of the colour of his skin ([1985] 2012: 84).

Even though I do have some stickler tendencies tucked away deep inside of me, I don’t like correcting other people. In my teens I had this stickler boyfriend who taught me some ‘proper’ Dutch grammar. I hated being corrected and even though I now know and prefer the correct forms, I still don’t like correcting other people.

As a mother of two small children I am confronted with sticklers and pedants correcting young children on a daily basis. I am usually amazed at the new words my two-and-half-year-old daughter comes up with and how she is able to apply grammar to new words.

Even though blogs on “good parenting” and grammar usually encourage parents to let children make mistakes and not correct them, especially not mid-sentence, this is not the reality of what is happening. I’m sure many new mothers read popular blogs and email newsletters on the development of their children, but I wanted to find out where the stickler attitude to children’s language acquisition came from.

My children’s nursery recently hosted a meeting on child language acquisition. The experts of the evening were two middle-aged women from the consultatiebureau, the governmental Dutch baby clinic which monitors your child’s development and provides vaccination.

At first the women recommended repetition when teaching children to use single words, but then they went on and on about how to correct their language. Their views on bilingualism were peculiar to say the least: in their opinion you had to teach a child one language with all its rules and correct grammar before even attempting to teach it a second language. As the consulting agency is considered an authority on raising children, I was shocked to see how their views on child language acquisition were so outdated. These women considered themselves real authorities on the matter and weren’t too pleased with the critical questions they got. Even though the baby clinic I go to has the reputation of being old-fashioned at times, this was beyond my expectations.

I was relieved  to hear the nursery staff disagreeing with them, and though I never heard them correct the children entrusted to their care, some of the other parents present really needed reassuring. My children need to learn language and grammar but I don’t think that stopping them mid-sentence to correct them is the way to go. My usual attitude to issues like this is that they’ll probably learn to speak correctly before they hit the age of 18. I’m pretty sure my daughter won’t keep using her self-invented word tattie for ‘rabbit’ and I’m pretty sure she’ll be able to say peekaboo instead of the peekookoo she insists on at this moment.

Please share your thoughts on correcting children’s language and some of the clever children’s language inventions you’ve come across. For those new parents googling and stumbling upon this post, here are some more blogs with information on correcting children’s language: grammarly.com,  theparentreport.com and raisingchildren.net.au, as well as an article by Bohannon and Stanowicz (1988) that you might find of interest.

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English Today: just out

Our latest contribution to English Today was written by Hielke Vriesendorp, a research master student at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics with an interest in prescriptivism. His paper is called “The Internet’s (New) Usage Problems”, and its aim is to collect data on what new usage problems there might be in addition to the “old chestnuts” we are all too familiar with.

So do help him with his research by filling in the survey in the article, which promises to be very interesting indeed.

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